THE HUSTLE (2019)
Starring Anne Hathaway, Rebel Wilson, Alex Sharp, Dean Norris, Ingrid Oliver, Tim Blake Nelson, Emma Davies, Casper Christensen, Meena Rayann, Sarah-Stephanie, Celine Abrahams, Aaron Neil, Douggie McMeekin, Francisco Labbe, Raffaello Degruttola, Deano Bugatti, Christophe de Choisy, Eloise Lovell Anderson and Philip Desmeules.
Screenplay by Stanley Shapiro & Paul Henning and Dale Launer and Jac Schaeffer.
Directed by Chris Addison.
Distributed by Metro Goldwyn Mayer. 94 minutes. Rated PG-13.
I can’t help but wonder why anyone would bother to remake the classic 1988 con-man comedy Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, which had starred Michael Caine and Steve Martin and is one of my favorite movies ever. It is considered a classic film and still is widely available and is not thought to have aged poorly in the three decades since it came out.
Then again, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels was a movie remake itself. It is one of the rare occasions when the remake is better than the original, which was a mostly forgotten 1964 film called Bedtime Story with David Niven and Marlon Brando. (Strangely, this story has been filmed three times over the years with three completely different titles.) Dirty Rotten Scoundrels is surprisingly faithful to the basic storyline of the original film, but they came up with an infinitely stronger ending.
So, The Hustle is going against two former versions of this plot. The question is: What do they have new going for it to make it worth our while not to just re-watch Dirty Rotten Scoundrels? That is, other than the now-ubiquitous stunt of changing the sex of the main characters, and also making them significantly younger with Anne Hathaway and Rebel Wilson now taking on the roles of con men (con people?) seeking prey on the French Riviera?
Is there any chance that they can once again up the game in this story, becoming a remake that is even better than the film it was remaking?
The answer, not surprisingly, is no. More like, hell no! In fact, it’s kind of shocking how badly they have botched this smart and funny story and turned it into something of a chore to sit through.
I had a bit of hope at first. The storyline was relatively faithful to Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, there were even quite a few lines lifted directly from the last version. (Dirty Rotten Scoundrels screenwriter Dale Launer is one of the four credited screenwriters for the remake.) However, even when they are quoting the original dialogue, it all feels a little off, the clever lines landing with a bit of a thud.
It is quickly obvious that the two lead actresses are completely wrong for the roles. I like both Anne Hathaway and Rebel Wilson in other films, but they do not connect with these characters in even the tiniest ways. Hathaway is talented enough to pull off the character, but confoundingly has been instructed to play her as an unfeeling, brittle, slightly bitchy ice queen. She has none of the charm or openness that would be needed to be a successful con artist.
Rebel Wilson, on the other hand, plays her normal shtick; the fat, fast-talking, loud but ultimately sweet, clumsy, uncouth extrovert. It can be a very funny persona in the right kind of film, but it just does not work in this more intricate, plot-based storyline. And a little of Wilson’s slapstick humor goes a long way. There are way too many dumb pratfalls by the actress shoehorned into in this film, to the point that they lose any power to amuse.
Not that this story is averse to slapstick. Just compare the competing scenes of the young con trying to talk themselves out of a French Riviera jail. In Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Steve Martin played the scene as a physical extension of the character’s desperation and frustration. Wilson, on the other hand, tried to add a cringeworthy half-hearted awkward sexuality which ultimately falls very flat.
The new film is going along okay, not really working but being somewhat faithful to the older storyline, giving it a slight nostalgic charm. Then, for no apparent reason, about 2/3s of the way through the film the characters suddenly swap personalities and storylines, which is both confounding and annoying at the same time.
The Hustle does do its own variation of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels’ smart and cynical climax, happily ignoring Bedtime Story’s more toothless finale. Well, not completely ignoring it, The Hustle’s end does add back one old-fashioned aspect of the original 1964 ending which was jettisoned in the first remake, but it is somewhat underplayed here in comparison to Bedtime Story.
However, The Hustle totally screws up that ending, over-explaining everything which is happening to the point where it is metaphorically banging the audience over the head with its clarifications. The filmmakers apparently don’t trust its own audience to understand what they just saw with their own eyes. Less can be more, particularly in the con game. Always leave the mark a little bit confounded. By adding so much unnecessary exposition to the climax, the movie significantly dulls the trick we just witnessed.
The Hustle even fails to live up to its inspiration on the most basic levels. It’s hard to believe that a film that takes place on the French Riviera could have so little in the way of interesting scenery – some spectacular establishing shots, but otherwise this could have been filmed just about anywhere. Even the established con man’s spectacular seaside chateau has been replaced by the large-but-dull boxy modern architecture of the Hathaway character’s house – though at least it does have a similarly nice ocean view.
If you have never seen Dirty Rotten Scoundrels – or even Bedtime Story – then The Hustle may make for a painless but not-overly-stimulating night at the movies. There are some decent laughs mixed in, and the clever plotline does shine through, even when it is not portrayed all that well. Still, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels is widely available on video and through streaming, so you are definitely better off just watching that.
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2019 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: May 10, 2019.